Separatists gunned down 11 Hindi-speaking migrant workers in one of the deadliest attacks in India's northeastern state of Assam even as two separate explosions killed a child and wounded 18 more, officials said on Saturday.
A police spokesman said a group of about 10 to 15 heavily armed militants late on Friday attacked sleeping villagers at Dolamara in Karbi Anglong district, about 250 km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati.
"The militants went berserk and killed 11 people belonging to two Hindi-speaking families after entering their houses," Lajja Ram Bishnoi, deputy inspector general of police in Karbi Anglong district, told IANS.
All the victims were petty cultivators engaged in tilling the land of local villagers in the area.
The police blamed the attack on the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), both working in tandem in parts of Karbi Anglong district.
"We suspect it to be a joint attack with the militants entering their houses and gunning down some of the victims who were sleeping at that time," Bishnoi said.
The dead includes four women and two children belonging to two families originally hailing from Bihar but who have been residing in Assam for decades.
Stepped up attacks and a wave of bombings since Sunday have so far claimed 27 lives and wounded close to 50 people in Assam.
In two separate bombings late Friday, the ninth such explosions in the state since Sunday, a child was killed and 18 more wounded in parts of Karbi Anglong district.
"There was a grenade explosion in a small village killing a two-year-old child and injuring nine others. Prior to that a bomb exploded at a marketplace in the district headquarters of Diphu wounding nine more," the police official said.
This is the second major attack on Hindi-speaking migrant workers in the last four days - eight people from two families were killed in a similar attack on Wednesday in the same district.
The attacks are reminiscent of the wave of killings by the ULFA in January targeting Hindi-speakers in which about 80 people were killed.
Thousands of migrant workers from Bihar have been living in Assam for decades and doing odd jobs as brick kiln workers, fishermen, and daily wage labourers.
The ULFA, a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland since 1979, had earlier vowed to free the state of all non-Assamese workers saying people from outside the state were eating into local jobs.
"The attacks are barbaric and show the militants' inhuman nature as they killed women and children without any qualms," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
The Assam government on Saturday announced a massive military deployment in the area and pledged to thwart further attacks linked to the upcoming Independence Day celebrations next week.
Rebels in insurgency-hit Assam, the largest among the seven northeastern states, have for years been boycotting Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations to protest the central government's rule over the vast region rich in oil, tea and timber.
The run-up to the events has always been violent, with rebels of the outlawed ULFA striking vital installations including crude oil pipelines, trains, road and rail bridges, and security personnel.
More than 30 rebel armies operate in the northeastern states, their demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.